National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

First, Do Life No Harm

Pro-life Profile

BY The Editors

March 8-14, 2009 Issue | Posted 2/27/09 at 1:55 PM


As medical adviser to a crisis-pregnancy center, Dr. Robert Scanlon laments the results of last November’s presidential and congressional elections. But he hasn’t lost hope.

Scanlon, who practices obstetrics/gynecology in Huntington, N.Y., had the courage six years ago to stop prescribing artificial contraception to his patients. In addition to serving 15 years with the Life Center of Long Island (online at, Scanlon travels overseas with Maternal Life International ( to provide health care, abstinence education, and training in natural family planning to patients in Africa.

Scanlon spoke with Register correspondent Tina Dennelly.

Why did you become a doctor, and why obstetrics/gynecology?

I started out as an engineer; then I went into business. Finally, I was drawn to do a job that provided a different type of fulfillment. Medicine worked out. I think it was the one-on-one interaction that drew me to it. I began as a family doctor, then picked one area I liked and was good at: obstetrics. I liked the fact that I knew what the issue was: The patient was pregnant. And I knew what to do about it: Provide a safe birth plan.

Was there a time when you prescribed contraception to patients?

Yes, for about 10 years. I didn’t think there was any problem with it. I went through Pre-Cana and practiced under many Catholic physicians, yet I’d never heard about Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth).

What led to your becoming an NFP-only physician?

I had an awakening to the teachings of the Church and a submission to this truth. I had an acceptance of the wisdom God gives his Church. There was really no one event or occurrence; I guess it was grace. Humanae Vitae only made sense when I submitted myself to the teachings of Christ through his Church. After this submission, the truths of such a life, as Humanae Vitae laid out, became clear. This encyclical laid out a path for marriage that the world has rejected but is one I believe will strengthen the bond couples seek in marriage.

What role did your Catholic faith play in your decision?

It initially was the entire reason. Over time, I found the goodness of the teachings, but, initially, it was faith that God speaks to man through his Church. I now believe that natural family planning is great for women and the men they are involved with. It promotes abstinence until one is ready for relations — that is, after marriage — as well as respects the creative power God has given to married couples.

How did your decision affect your practice in general and you specifically?

In general, it was easy; I just stopped doing it. Specifically, it was hard; I had to explain this to a lot of people — patients, nurses, colleagues. That was hard because I was new to understanding the teachings I was faithfully following. My dialogue was not real smooth.

Did you lose any patients?

Yes, plenty. Those who come now do come out of respect for my practice philosophy. I have never done the numbers, but I would guess more have left than have come.

What was the reaction of the other doctors in your practice?

My OB/GYN partners were great. My medical group partners were not. I’ll leave it at that.

How are you accepted within the medical community, in general?

They know I’m “conservative,” but I have a consistency — I don’t do abortions; I work for the poor; I’m churchgoing — that seems to allow others to accept my nonmainstream approach.

Is there a reason other than your Catholic faith why you would not prescribe contraception?

Initially, there wasn’t, but as I have lived the truth, I have come to see the wisdom of its philosophy. It really is a great way of life for a married couple. Additionally, it is so healthy for women. Hormonal contraception has links to breast cancer, blood clots, and is advertised as “healthy.” Do we really think that women were designed wrong and need to take artificial hormones during their reproductive years to be “healthy”?

Also, no child should ever be conceived as a “mistake.” That is the utmost disrespect to the human person. Yet, contraception sets a couple up for such “mistakes.”

You recently spoke at a workshop about the link between breast cancer and the birth-control pill and the link between breast cancer and abortion. Why do you think most in the medical community will not acknowledge these links?

The data is hidden. It is more accepted to run counter to the Church; professionals have this false sense that it is “unintellectual” to submit to teachings grounded in faith. It’s sad, but I think it’s true.

If hormonal contraception is ultimately harmful to women, why do you think there aren’t more NFP-only doctors?

That’s a great question. There’s no simple answer. And there are certainly no role models in medical education, other than a few “voices crying out in the wilderness.”

I wish the Catholic medical schools and Catholic residency programs would have the courage to embrace the Church’s teaching. It would provide a great foundation for future doctors, and I’m sure they would find this path superior to the road they are on.

What do you do if a patient comes to you seeking contraception?

I tell her I’m not in that business and look into her eyes to see if she wants to hear why. Many people don’t want to know why. Patients have to decide if they want me, as I am, to be their doctor.

Tell me more about the overseas work you do.

For a short time, I was involved in MaterCare International and helped them to establish a U.S. presence. This involvement allowed me to meet the president of a Butte, Mont.-based group called Maternal Life International (MLI). It is with MLI and a division I began called AIM (Aiding Infants and Mothers) that I do my overseas work. I make at least one trip a year and some years two times.

Our work is simple: We respect the life and dignity of every person as outlined for us by Pope John Paul II. This respect translates into a maternal health program that provides models for safe birth, education for NFP and sexuality training that seeks to avoid HIV by understanding abstinence and faithfulness.

What do you think the future of the pro-life movement looks like?

I very much would have liked an administration that acknowledges and respects the dignity of all human persons from conception until natural death, but I still believe this respect will prevail.

For many years, this country elected presidents with administrations that, for “economic” reasons, were unable to abolish slavery. However, the truth endowed to all of us, that we are all created equal, eventually and inevitably rose to the surface.

Life is beyond our capacity to “choose.” This truth will win. I pray that the Obama administration acknowledges this truth. So I do not worry; I have been blessed with faith.

Tina Dennelly writes

from Oakdale, New York.